President Trump’s choice to weigh in on the holiday greetings battle came too little, too late. At every business I’ve frequented in the last few months, I’ve been greeted by employees wishing me “Happy Holidays”…not one “Merry Christmas” to date. The cultural police have already enshrined an invisible law that dictates that saying “Merry Christmas” in public spaces is offensive and insensitive. And to be honest, I’m not that mad about it.
Trump clearly is not the only one to take up arms in defense of the “Merry Christmas” camp. Organizations like the Knights of Columbus with their “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper sticker campaign have been around for years now. But as much as I’m peeved by the rampant secularization and faith-phobic rhetoric that has taken over mainstream American culture, I’ve noticed that this cultural shift has become an opportunity for Christians to celebrate Christmas in a new way.
The few times I’ve been greeted with “Merry Christmas” have been from friends who are practicing Christians. And when they say it, they say it in a sharp, bordering on mysterious tone…with a twinkle in their eye…with the thrill of transgressing the norms of the world around them…as if they’re in on a secret that only a select few know about.
But isn’t this what Christmas is about? The Mystery of the Incarnation was not some sentimental, feel good, throw-on-a-Mariah-Carey-song-while-we-wrap-gifts type of event. The circumstances of the birth of Christ were nothing like what our culture has made out of Christmas.
Christmas is about God, the Infinite, all-power, loving, and knowing source of life, taking human flesh…and dwelling among us. He didn’t come to us in a form that most of us would have expected-rather, he came as a tiny, weak, and poor baby, in a dirty cave. Hardly a grand entrance for the he who claims to be “eternal Being”…
And yet those who recognized him understood how radical the implications of this event were…what an utter paradox and complete contradiction this was. This event transgressed the norms of all social institutions, throwing off the matrix of political, religious, and cultural powers of his day…and those to come in the future.So thank God we no longer take the greeting “Merry Christmas” lightly! It shouldn’t be flung around as a mere social convention or as a means to lure people into the lair of the draconian beast known as Consumerism. The pronunciation of every syllable should inflect the very mystery to which it refers!
As I was walking out of a bookstore run by some rather left-wing folk (the featured books shelf displayed titles by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Caitlyn Jenner, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Karl Marx, just to give you a sense…) this morning, I knew many a Christian culture warrior would have wanted me to transgress the secular cultural paradigm by wishing them a “Merry Christmas.” But I knew it would be a waste of time.
If I want the world to see the true mystery at the origin of all Christmas festivities, I know it’s going to take more than a “political gesture” like imposing a Christmas greeting on non-Christians. Instead, I choose to follow Christ’s model…to “embody” the Truth and let it take flesh through the way I “live and move.” So I wished them a “Happy Holidays,” with that same sharpness and sense of mystery that my knowledge of the impending commemoration of the Incarnation has generated in me. Perhaps they’ll want to be in on the secret too…